PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Mauritius — A Threepenny Opera

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05 Oct 2007

Mauritius, in the play by that name which bowed Oct. 4 at the Biltmore, is a tiny island in the Indian Ocean from whence cometh a one-penny and a two-penny "Post Office" stamp, issued flaws and all in 1847 and somehow surviving to this day together and uncanceled.

Not the most promising premise in the playwriting handbook for a Broadway-sized dust-up, you must be thinking, but Theresa Rebeck carries this to operatic heights, fanned admittedly by the untold fortune these little scraps of paper could bring a person.

The stage is thus set for a King of the Mountain contest, peopled with a very quirky quintet of characters, and complicated by some slippery sleight of hand in the second act.

Two half-sisters, estranged to the point of fisticuffs (Alison Pill and Katie Finneran), are turned loose on three conmen falling all over themselves and the women to come out on top — a stingy-spirited stamp expert (Dylan Baker), a deep-pocketed psychopath who pours lovingly over the goods on display like Sydney Greenstreet inspecting The Maltese Falcon (F. Murray Abraham) and a huckster hustler trying to bring all sides into accord (Bobby Cannavale, very much in the driver's seat in a star-making Broadway debut).

Rebeck is also stepping up to the Broadway league with this play, having been a prolific force Off-Broadway. "Like, ten plays to get here," she laughed, but she insisted it was worth it.

Why this play for a Main Stem arrival over the nine that preceded it? "You know what? I can't answer that," she admitted. "Other people have asked me that question, and I don't know the answer because I think there's a kind of kismet aspect to it, and also other people are in control of those decisions so it's not something I understand the logic of from the inside. You could ask other producers. They might have other theories."

While readying Mauritius for Broadway, she has been spinning two other plates on the side: "I have a novel coming out next spring, called 'Three Girls and Their Brother,' for Random House. And I'm going to Denver in December to do a new play, directed by Daniel Fish. It's called Our House, and it'll be done at Denver Center Theatre."

Hopefully, these projects won't require the research that this play did. She knew nada about the world of serious stamp collecting when she started it, but "I did a lot of homework, googled a lot, talked to people. Those stamps are historically valuable, and they're very, very real. They were printed when Mauritius was a British protectorate, and they have the face of Queen Victoria. They're out there, and they're sorta together and uncanceled. There was just one plate of these stamps that were plated with these plates."

This given is enough to get five ace actors to scrap up a storm. Rebeck views it as close-quarter boxing. "That's what I'm thinking when I'm watching them. Those guys are really going at it."

Maybe it's the Amadeus influence, but Abraham reached for a more genteel and refined reference: "I was thinking more like a quintet playing some very good music."

He admitted he enjoyed the battle-royals of rehearsals and the results it has brought. "In a couple or three or four months, we'll be separated. And, to me, you've got to savor these times because, you know as well as I do, the good times don't happen that often."

"It has been like a playground," Baker added. "We're having fun. In fact, we've had actors come up to us, and they're jealous. They would like to become a part of it. They can see we're having a ball."

Frankly, Baker is a little surprised to be a part of it. "When I read the script, I said, 'I have no idea who this guy is. I know it's not me.' And Doug Hughes said, 'Well, let's take the journey and find out where you'll go.' And because I trust Doug Hughes — I've never worked with him before. I've wanted to for years. In fact, Becky [Dylan's actress-wife Becky Ann Baker] has enjoyed both times she has worked with him so much that I said, 'Sounds good. Let's try it.''


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